Twenty years ago, Nina Tishkevich was providing individual lessons to 75 musicians. 

But as an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, she wasn’t used to teaching privately, a practice uncommon in what is today known as Uzbekistan.

And she wanted to return to teaching in a classroom full of students.

During her time as a budding musician and as a teacher in the former Soviet Union, Tishkevich said she worked with large groups of other music professionals. In America, what she missed was chamber music, group classes and performances. 

And so she decided to create her own school. Today, it’s known as the Music & Dance Academy. With two locations in Tucson, the academy is celebrating its second decade of artistic inspiration and dedication.

To Tishkevich, the academy is more than a music and dance school. It’s a stepping stone for continued success. 

“It’s life skills,” she said. “It’s experience, it’s what they’re going to use later in their lives—and that is very important.”

The academy instructs in wind, string and percussion instruments, as well as piano and others. The dance section teaches ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop and musical theatre, with plans to include lyrical and modern dance.

The music students, of all ages, are instructed under the Suzuki method, an internationally known teaching methodology developed by Shinichi Suzuki, who realized that children across the world learn to speak their native language much easier than foreign. He applied his discovery to musical education, called the mother-tongue approach.

Deena Reedy, program coordinator at the academy, said the method relates to language in that it requires a lot of listening. Children are taught to listen to the music first, and then learn to read it.

The Music & Dance Academy will begin education with those as young as 18 months, and offers continued support all through life. In terms of beginning education at such a young age, Reedy and Tishkevich both spoke to the importance of exposing children to the arts.

“It’s very important to start very early,” Reedy said. “Because they can learn so many things from their environment; they just soak up things around them, and it’s a miraculous thing, but we don’t think of it being miraculous because it just happens.”

For dance instructor La Tosha Maynard, starting off at a young age comes down to inspiration.

“You inspire them,” she said. “Engage their hearts through the movement and show them that it’s about exploring yourself and being yourself on stage.”

Whether music or dance, child or adult, the academy hopes to bring out the best in any individual, with the fundamental idea being that every person has some innate talent or ability which can be nurtured and instructed until it blossoms into a lifelong passion. 

For some of the students, like 9-year-old Caleb Leonard, that passion developed rather quickly. Under the tutelage of instructor Tom Urda for only a year, Leonard exemplified just how important an understanding of music and the arts is.

“I think it’s very fun to play,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the notes to play, and the music can be a beautiful thing, and if you play it and finish a song, maybe someday you could make that song into a very important part of your life.”

Though he was slightly at a loss for words at the dedication shown by his pupil, Urda said he has spent his entire life as a musician—some of those years under Tishkevich herself—and saw his role as a music educator more as a privilege than a job. 

“I take it pretty seriously,” he said. “A big part of music lessons is focus and attention to detail, and hard work. Anything you do that involves those things can also involve a lot of fun. You forge a relationship with your student, and their excitement about impressing you with your hard work, well that’s fun too.”

Each of the instructors, Urda included, knows a thing or two about hard work. In looking for staff, Tishkevich said she only hires instructors with a master’s degree or higher. While the dance instructors don’t always have the same academic background, Tishkevich said dance can be different, and looks for individuals with a strong portfolio of experience and some traditional education. 

Whether practicing for a recital or preparing for a professional career, the success at the Music & Dance Academy stems from three things: consistency, discipline and commitment. Expectations may be high, but it’s not all about results.

“When they play very well, that’s what we train them for,” Tishkevich said. “But, I think that’s not the goal. What I think really counts is, how this music or dance education actually affected their lives, did it do anything beyond the point of their performances?”

The Music & Dance Academy will be celebrating its 20-year anniversary with a no-holds-barred gala event, complete with a red carpet. 

The gala is at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 24, at the Pima Community College Center for the Arts, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Tickets can be purchased for $15 in advance at or at either location: 7954 N. Oracle Road and 4811 E. Sunrise Drive. For more information: or (520) 219-9950.

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